Kurt Cobain's last words proclaim, "It's better to burn out than to fade away." Cobain died at the age of 27 from a self-inflicted gunshot on April 5, 1994.
Nineteen years later, the influence of the iconic frontman of Seattle-based grunge trio Nirvana has neither burned out nor faded away. A tribute gig to Cobain, titled About a Son, will affirm the singer's lasting significance among Beijing music fans, as three grunge-influenced Beijing acts interpret songs from Nirvana's body of work at Yugong Yishan on April 12. On the bill are Fuzzy Mood, The Gray and The Hit.
Ku Lou, 26, guitarist for The Hit, says his first encounter with Cobain's voice was a home recording of the track "Rape Me."
"When I was 16, I borrowed this cassette tape from a friend. I didn't know what was on it. I started listening and soon heard the words 'Rape me, my friend / Rape me again,' and was totally shocked. Cobain only had to use two words to completely own the listener," Ku says. His band, who takes after The Pixies with dual vocals over bass and drums, plans on opening their set with this song, from Nirvana's 1993 album In Utero.
Wu Fengjie, 26, vocalist and guitarist of The Gray, is both excited and anxious about his band's performance of "Lithium." Living up to Nirvana's onstage prowess is a big challenge.
"I feel I share a lot in common with Cobain, both as a mind and as a musician. But Cobain had such presence onstage. He was a brilliant performance artist," says Wu, who uses guitar pedals reminiscent of US grunge. Band mate and lead vocalist Wang Guo even sounds similar to Cobain and the basement echo present in recordings carries on the do-it-yourself, post-punk ethic.
Wu says Cobain is seen by many as a retro fashion icon of the grunge era, rather than as an artist. The flannel shirt, ripped jeans and converse sneakers worn by Cobain, he says, are for some more relevant than the wry, sarcastic intonations of Cobain's lyrics on angst and self-loathing.
"Kurt Cobain was handsome, but that doesn't make him a fashion icon by design," he says.
The Hit singer Wang Guo defends Cobain's fans in Beijing, saying that many are very familiar with the singer's biography, contrary to the claim that Cobain is just a '90s fashion icon here.
"I think fans of Nirvana here understand a lot of the feeling behind Nirvana's music. Cobain's addiction and his family life are all part of the reason young people relate to him," Wang says.
About a Son will celebrate two decades of nostalgia for Cobain's short-lived career. Cobain's parting line, however, signifies more than the singer's final curtain-call to fans.
Wang is among those who still take the famous sentiment to heart.
"I always say the more pure a person is, the crueler reality is to them," he says. "Kurt was just too pure for this world, and for this, he burned."